“I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you haven’t eaten carbonara in Rome, you haven’t eaten it at all,” says Maria Pasquale with a laugh. Pasquale, who was born in Australia to Italian parents, has eaten carbonara at the same trattoria since moving to Rome 12 years ago – Da Enzo Al 29, a popular rustic eatery in the Trastevere district. “They make the best carbonara in Rome,” she says. “It’s the perfect mix of creamy and silky.”
For Pasquale, whose journey as a culture writer began 12 years ago with the creation of her now-highly-popular blog HeartRome, spreading these insider’s tips is a calling unto itself. In that sense, her most recent book – The Eternal City: Recipes and Stories from Rome – is the culmination of 12 years spent learning and sharing the ins and outs of the Roman food scene.
Pasquale’s intimate new guide to the food and people of Italy’s storied capital is a must-read. The Eternal City is her third book; a hand-curated collection of exclusive recipes from her tried-and-true favourite eateries around Rome – including, of course, Da Enzo’s carbonara. Interspersed among the recipes are interviews with the people that Pasquale refers to as ‘custodians of Roman culture:’ The local cheesemonger and biscuit shop proprietor make appearances, as do more notable foodies, like Rome’s only female Michelin-starred chef Cristina Bowerman. It’s a snapshot of modern life in an ancient place, presented through food and the stories of those who love it.
We asked Maria Pasquale to share with us her top five must-visit eateries in the Eternal City.
The Best Pizza: Seu Pizza Illuminati
“At the moment, one of the hottest places to eat pizza in town is Seu Pizza Illuminati,” says Pasquale. Up-and-coming Roman chef Pier Daniele Seu, who opened the restaurant before the pandemic with his wife Valeria, is reportedly one of the hottest pizzaiolos in the Eternal City these days. An increasingly-crowded awards shelf and consistent 5-star critic reviews are making his name well-known elsewhere in Italy, and Pasquale says the acclaim is well-deserved.
What sets Chef Seu apart is his creativity in a medium – pizza – that’s generally approached in Italy with a reverence for classic techniques and flavours. “He’s renowned for flirting with ingredients. Every season the menu will change,” says Pasquale. “You’ll find everything from tuna tartare to truffles to cocoa powder and coffee on the pizzas. They’re magnificent.”
The Best Street Food: I Supplì
“I Supplì is a hole-in-the-wall street food outlet,” says Pasquale. “We call it a friggitoria – a fried food place.” I Supplì is a local institution dating back to the 1970s, and Pasquale’s favourite friggitoria in Rome: “That’s my street food and pizza-on-the-run spot,” she says.
A supplì, the store’s namesake and specialty, is a Roman street food dish consisting of a fried rice ball stuffed with mozzarella. “It’s our version of an arancini – but don’t ever tell a Roman that,” warns Pasquale. “Arancini are Sicilian.” (The difference between supplì and arancini is that arancini are commonly stuffed with a meat ragu and peas, while the star of a supplì is its warm, stretchy mozzarella centre.) Be sure to try supplì from this spot, but don’t overlook the other menu offerings – Pasquale says their pizza marinara is “the best in Rome,” and she never misses gnocchi day on Thursdays.
The Best Gelato: Otaleg
The name of Pasquale’s favourite gelato spot is easy to remember – Otaleg is just ‘gelato’ spelled backwards. Owner Marco Radicioni goes to great lengths to produce high-quality, flavourful gelatos, all hand-made and churned on site in Trastevere. “They’re not made with any sort of potion or powder. It’s real, artisanal gelato,” Pasquale says.
You’ll find both savoury and sweet flavours on the menu at Otaleg, but what really sets Radicioni apart, Pasquale says, is his embrace of seasonal ingredients. “Whatever you’re seeing in the market that day, you’ll also see on the menu at Otaleg,” she promises.
The Best Trattoria: Da Enzo Al 29
A trattoria, in Rome, is an eatery geared around traditional home-style cooking in a laid-back atmosphere. “At a trattoria, it’s quite common to have your plate kind of just thrown at the table,” says Pasquale. “Your wine glass is often just a tumbler. It’s a very casual version of restaurant dining.”
Da Enzo al 29, a longstanding family-owned eatery in Rome’s Trastevere neighbourhood, is what Pasqusle says is her trattoria di fiducia – her trusted, go-to trattoria. “Everything on the menu is a standout, but the carbonara is my favourite,” she says. Other Da Enzo specialties include their many antipasti – like fried artichokes, burrata and panzanella – and the mascarpone strawberry mousse, which remains Pasquale’s favourite dessert in Rome. Be prepared to head out early if you’re hitting up this spot, though: “There is a line to get into Da Enzo,” Pasquale says, “but it’s extremely worth lining up for.”
The Best Café: Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria
Anyone who knows Rome, Pasquale says, knows Roscioli. Located next to the famed Campo dei Fiori flower market, the family-owned Roscioli spans a restaurant, salumeria, wine bar, bakery and now a café, and is a gastronomic institution in the city. In fact, they’re starting to expand – the first location outside of Rome opened its doors in July 2023, in New York City.
Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria is the newest addition to their Roman businesses, selling fresh coffee (a pour-over is their specialty) along with a range of pastries, sweets and other snacks. “They have one of the best club sandwiches in Rome,” says Pasquale, but there’s one specialty in particular that she keeps going back for: the maritozzo. “It’s just the classic and nostalgic Roman sweet dessert,” she says. “Literally just a sweet bun, slit in half and filled with a whole lot of fresh cream.”